Remixing with Reason 9

Take a Look at how Reason 9’s Biggest New Features Make it a Better Overall Remix Machine
Image placeholder title

Propellerhead has continued Reason’s journey toward omnipotence with the recent Reason 9 release, and we have a full review coming up in Electronic Musician’s October issue. To tide you over in the meantime, I’ve taken this look at many of Reason 9’s significant new features as they pertain specifically to remixing. 

With previous versions of Reason, I wouldn’t necessarily reach for the software as a first choice to remix a track from start to finish. Reason 9, however, has added some tantalizing new features that have lead me to reconsider it as a one-stop shop for remixing.

Of course, in most scenarios, I would just ReWire Reason 9 into Ableton Live or some other DAW if the project needed some attention outside of Reason. But this time, I’m considering the case to use only Reason 9 to complete a remix that starts with a typical set of source material: a dozen or so WAV stems.

Audio to MIDI
I started with a session in the tempo of the original track and drag my 13 WAV stem files into the Reason Sequencer timeline. The program then imported each one as separate Sequencer tracks, and also set up Mixer channels and Rack Audio Track devices for each stem. Raising the session tempo automatically time-stretches the audio stems to the new tempo.

Reason 9 has a new Bounce Audio Clips to MIDI option that will export monophonic audio clips to a new MIDI track. So for any of the remix stems with monophonic parts, such as a bass line, lead synth line, hi-hat pattern, etc., you can extract the MIDI pitch and velocity information and substitute in a new instrument sound, edit the MIDI, etc. Polyphonic audio clips and clips with no note detected will bounce to MIDI with all notes on the C3 pitch, which will let you repurpose the rhythm of the original track.

For the several audio tracks that I wanted to bounce to MIDI, I selected the track, and in the contextual menu, chose Bounce > Bounce Audio clips to MIDI. Reason inserted the new instrument track named “Converted From Audio” below the original with the Subtractor synth as the default instrument. I renamed each track, chose a new instrument I wanted in the Browser, and dragged it into the Rack over the Subtractor synth to replace it. Then I was free to edit the MIDI information and tweak and mix the sounds to my liking. Doing this let me repurpose some of my favorite elements from the original track into my remix.

In the screenshot, three audio tracks in the sequencer have been bounced to MIDI, with a fourth audio track about to be bounced from the contextual menu. 

Image placeholder title

This new Audio to MIDI option adds a key capability to Reason 9, but it’s still far from perfect in its results. It worked very well to preserve the MIDI rhythm of an audio drum or percussion track, but it only worked about half of the time to successfully convert audio notes to a MIDI track with the proper pitch. Several times, the function converted a melodic synth or bass line to a monotone MIDI clip using only the C3 pitch. For example, a sub-bass clip converted its pitches to MIDI notes just fine, but another bass line stem playing about the same notes converted using only C3 notes. In one instance, a synth lead converted to only C3 notes with a bizarre and incorrect rhythm. That time, however, the resulting MIDI rhythm sounded so cool, that I found a use for it anyway, but for now, the Bounce Audio to MIDI option serves as an interesting tool that doesn’t always deliver the desired outcome.

Player Devices: Scales & Chords, Note Echo and Dual Arpeggio
If you can successfully convert the audio clips you want as new MIDI tracks, Reason 9 has some excellent new MIDI Rack devices listed in the Browser and menus as Players: Dual Arpeggio, Note Echo and Scales & Chords. Each one processes, filters and/or generates MIDI notes to turn simple inputs into interesting musical phrases and progressions.

Image placeholder title

Scales & Chords can generate intricate chords from a single note, all while keeping them within the key and scale you specify. The chords can be of up to five notes, and you can set them to be inversions and/or open chords.

Note Echo is not really a delay effect. Rather, it repeats the MIDI data fed into it up to 16 times (with tempo syncing as an option). You have control over the number of repeats, the step length, changes to the pitch and velocity of the repeats, and the chance to “mute” repeats, so you can create rhythmic patterns.

The Dual Arpeggio complex arpeggiator can create two arpeggiations from the same MIDI input, each with a ton of variability. For either arpeggiator, you can set the note input range, rate, octave, transposition and gate length. You can also set the number of steps and draw in patterns or note velocity changes.

For any instrument track in Reason 9, you can stack as many Players as you want in front of the instrument. Using different combinations and settings for these Players, you could take a single favorite hook from the original track and create several discrete and different new parts out of it to create the basis for your entire remix.

As one example, I wanted to turn an instance of the bass line notes that I extracted from audio into a chord progression in the upper frequencies. Starting with Scales & Chords, after trying some options, I set three-note chords to be played in the third inversion with a fourth note an octave up from the root in the key of Eb minor. That turned a monophonic bass line into a nice chord progression, but to pitch it up, I added a Note Echo to the chain, and selected the Double Octave Up preset. Then to add some movement, I added a Dual Arpeggio and chose the Simple and Effective preset. 

By that time, what began as a simple three-note sub-bass audio file was miles apart: a high-range synth chord arpeggio to serve as a top line. Yet it still worked perfectly in the remix because it retained the key and progression of the original.

Audio Pitch Editor
A big score to Reason 9 users, the new Pitch Edit mode throws vocal pitch, timing, note length and note level editing into the mix. In both form and function, Pitch Edit harkens to the vocal pitch editing of well-known programs like Antares Auto-Tune and Celemony Melodyne, however, it’s a bit more limited than the full-blown versions of those stand-alone products.
Reason 9’s Pitch Edit lets you quickly auto-correct the pitch of vocal notes, manually fine tune their pitches, transpose notes up or down to your liking, as well as stretch or shorten notes, adjust their timing and their level. You can also correct “pitch drift” while preserving intentional pitch fluctuations such as vibrato.

In the case of remixing a song, the vocal stems you receive are not likely to need pitch correction. However, you can also use Pitch Edit more creatively, for example by slicing sustained notes into smaller ones that you use to alter the melody, duplicating the lead vocal and using the dupes to create new harmonies, altering the timing and note lengths, etc. If you like, you can also use Pitch Edit to “flatten” notes, thereby achieving the well-known T-Pain effect.

Image placeholder title

Ultimately, Pitch Edit is not as creatively flexible as, say, Melodyne 4 Studio. For example, when playing with the timing and note length in Reason’s Pitch Edit, the range is limited by the position of adjacent notes, so you don’t have full freedom to “rewrite” the vocal line. Also, Pitch Edit is strictly limited to monophonic material. One of the background vocal stems in my session had two singers performing the same line, but Pitch Edit would not handle editing that material the way Melodyne would. Regardless, it does what it can do with excellent results, and is a great boon to Reason 9.

New Sounds and Devices
Reason 9 places more than 1000 new sound patches into the Browser under the heading Reason 9 Sounds, broken into 13 sub-categories. The bulk of these fall into synthesizer patches for modern electronic genres. There are too many to try to explain here, but their general quality is very high. While Reason provides sound-design environment of virtually infinite possibilities, it never hurts to have a big selection of new sounds to work with, especially when you’re working under time constraints, as is often the case with remixes.
With Reason 9, you also get a few ReFills or rack devices built-in that used to be separate purchases. These include the Electromechanical ReFill of electric pianos, clavs and organs; the RDK Vintage Mono ReFill of vintage drum samples; and the Pulsar advanced dual-channel LFO Utility, which previously sold for $49. Pulsar’s two separate LFOs modulate parameters in other rack devices and can also modulate each other for complex movements. If you don’t want to mess with wiring it up to other devices, not to worry: The Browser includes dozens of presets using Pulsar in either synthesizer or effect Combinators (see screenshot). Within these inventive creations there’s a little something for everybody wanting to make spacey, groovy and/or kinetically energetic productions.

Image placeholder title

There’s no doubt that with the update to Reason 9, this time-tested music workstation is better equipped than ever to handle your remixing duties, and I hope to see even more enhancements and improvements along these lines in future incremental updates. An upgrade to Reason 9 from previous versions costs $129, while the full Reason 9 package  costs $399. And be sure to read our full review of Reason 9 in the October issue of Electronic Musician.